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Trumping NDP, Michael Ignatieff lays out tough new prorogation rules

Michael Ignatieff wants 10 days written notice to be given the opposition when the Prime Minister plans to shut down Parliament.

Arguing Stephen Harper lacks the character and discipline required to use his prime ministerial powers of prorogation responsibly, the Liberal leader said new rules are needed.

"We think it is appropriate now to set down clearly limits on the power of prorogation. … We are dealing with a Prime Minister who has shown that he doesn't have the political character to respect our institutions, so in our view a change of the rules is needed," he said, putting his own stamp on a proposal first floated by NDP Leader Jack Layton.

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The Liberal Leader was flanked by his caucus members, standing in front of the foyer of the House of Commons this morning on the day Parliament was to resume sitting before Mr. Harper shut it down last month.

In addition to a requirement of written notice, Mr. Ignatieff said prorogation must be brought before the House for a full debate and consent of MPs would be required if a shutdown was requested within the first year after a Throne Speech.

He also introduced another wrinkle: that committees continue to sit until the start of the new session. Were these proposed rules in place, it would mean the Commons committee investigating the abuse of Afghan detainees would be sitting now, despite prorogation.

In addition to these changes, the Liberals want a time limit of one month on prorogation. In this case, the Prime Minister has shut down the House for five weeks until after the Vancouver Olympics.

If a vote of confidence is scheduled, prorogation would be prohibited under the Liberal plan.

The Liberal proposal goes further than that floated by Mr. Layton last week, who called for a new law requiring a vote in the Commons that would then be taken to the Governor-General.

Mr. Ignatieff dismissed the NDP proposal as more of "press release," saying it didn't address what happens when there is a majority government - the Prime Minister would get his or her way every time.

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Mr. Layton, whose New Democrats also went back to work today, characterized as "ridiculous" the Prime Minister's logic and that of some of his ministers that they can get more work done when the House isn't sitting.

"If we were to extend that logic to its conclusion then the best thing would be never to have the House of Commons meeting," Mr. Layton said earlier Monday.

Like his Liberal counterpart, he was also surrounded by his MPs as he met with reporters in the foyer of the Commons.

"Now that may be Mr. Harper's private wish, but I can assure you that when he was the leader of the opposition he used to protest prorogation being used as a technique to avoid accountability."

Last week, The Globe set up an audio comment feature to find out what you think about prorogation. Here's the first sample:

Meanwhile, To blunt the opposition attacks, the Prime Minister's Office sent out the following memo to Conservative MPs and supporters explaining what government members are up to instead of returning to work in the House of Commons today:

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Message of the Day - The Government at work for Canadians

Today, Government Ministers are at work across Canada and abroad. In addition to participating in the Foreign Ministers' conference in Montreal to discuss how best to quickly rebuild Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, Government ministers are meeting with Canadians to listen to their views on the economy, making important announcements to improve infrastructure and communities, and representing Canada abroad. The following is a sampling of agendas and does not include the majority of scheduled MP events across Canada, and is subject to change:

Prime Minster Stephen Harper: International Conference for the Reconstruction of Haiti, Montréal

Min. Cannon: International Conference for the Reconstruction of Haiti, Montréal

Min. Mackay: International Conference for the Reconstruction of Haiti, Montréal

Min. Oda: International Conference for the Reconstruction of Haiti, Montréal

Min. Kent: International Conference for the Reconstruction of Haiti, Montréal

Min. Paradis: Roundtable with business leaders, Montréal

Sen. Housakos: Roundtable with business leaders, Montréal

Sen. Carignan: Roundtable with business leaders, Montréal

Min. Lunn: Announcement at Royal BC Museum and opening of First People's House, Victoria

Min. Yelich: $5.9M Provincial Grazing reserve announcement and

Min Yelich: EAP Roundtable with stakeholders, Edmonton

Sen. Yonah Martin: Announcement at Neil Squire Society, Burnaby, British Columbia, and speech at the opening of 40 units of supportive housing, New Westminster, British Columbia

Cathy McLeod, MP: Announcement about Interior Indian Friendship Society, Kamloops, British Columbia

Devinder Shory, MP: Announcement about Historical Recognition Program projects for Ottawa and Toronto

Min. Clement: International G-8 Media Tour and participates in York University Groundbreaking event, Toronto

Min. Strahl: Land Claim progress for Mississauga of New Credit First Nations announcement, Brantford, Ontario

Scott Armstrong, MP: Announcement of funding for Accessible Minivans for East Hants, Nova Scotia

Min. Prentice: EAP Roundtable, Sable Island, Nova Scotia

Min. Toews: EAP roundtables, Winnipeg and Steinbach, Manitoba

Min. Guergis: Roundtable with stakeholders, Ottawa

Min Baird: Announce the $2.73M for Rexdale Multi-Service Community Hub and the $1M for Bathurst-Finch Community Hub from Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, Toronto, and attends Toronto Board of Trade dinner

Min. Raitt: Labour stakeholders' roundtable, Toronto

Min. Shea: Roundtable with Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and other stakeholders, Toronto

Min Finley: EAP roundtables in Simcoe, Ontario

Min Goodyear: EAP roundtables in Cambridge, Ontario

Min. Nicholson: EAP roundtable, Niagara Falls, Ontario

Min. Verner: EAP roundtable, Québec City

Min: Blackburn: EAP roundtable, Jonqiuere, Québec

Greg Thompson, MP: EAP roundtable, Sussex, New Brunswick

Min Rob Moore and Rod Weston, MP: EAP roundtable, Sussex New Brunswick

Min. Kenney: Attends Auschwitz Conference on occasion of the 65th anniversary of the liberation, Poland

Min. Ritz: visits officials in Guatemala


(Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

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